Girl From The North Country – Civic Theatre July 5, 2022

Girl From The North Country is not only a Bob Dylan song, but it is an award-winning musical that has played on Broadway, in London, Sydney and now, finally Auckland.

Written and directed by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, Girl From The North Country takes 22 Dylan tunes and weaves them into a story set in 1934 in Duluth, Minnesota. And While Duluth is the birthplace of Mr. D, the story has little to do with Dylan or even the songs he wrote.

A quick admission…I am a huge Dylan fan, but not so much a musical theatre aficionado, so I approached seeing Girl From The North Country with a bit of trepidation, but the chance to hear Dylan’s songs in a completely different context drew me in. And while the story and the songs didn’t always make sense together, the performances and the production made for a very enjoyable evening.

The play is set in a dilapidated boarding house in Duluth, and this being 1934, the depression has taken its toll on all the characters we encounter.

We first meet Nick Laine (Peter Kowitz) proprietor of the struggling boarding house, along with his (somewhat) nuclear family…wife Elizabeth (Lisa McCune) who is suffering from  some form of dementia, son Gene (James Smith) who is just plain suffering and struggling and adopted daughter Marianne (Chemon Theys) who is both black and pregnant.

The play hits its stride as various characters enter and leave the boarding house. The most notable are a feisty Mrs Neilson (Christina O’Neill) who is sweet on Nick and Joe Scott (Elijah Williams) a boxer running from the law.

As is the case with musicals, we get a good dollop of drama and then someone breaks into song.

Fortunately the songs are all written by Bob Dylan and the cast all give wonderful performances. Christina O’Neill is the strongest vocalist while Lisa McCune wrings the most emotion from Forever Young.

On the acting side, I loved the Lynchian aspect to Lisa McCune’s Elizabeth…part Log Lady, part unhinged wife of Big Ed, Nadine…see Twin Peaks!

The musical highlight for me was the medley/mashup of Hurricane with All Along The Watchtower. Overall the feel was more gospel than folk which felt just right in this context.

Speaking of context, the play and the songs rarely seemed to be related to each other lyrically, which, sat times, made it feel like we were watching two shows simultaneously…a Eugene O’Neill type play (McPherson’s words) and a Bob Dylan tribute concert.

The song choices were excellent, although I felt the play could have used a bit of sharpening, particularly during the second half when it got somewhat muddled.

The cast and the musicians are all mostly from Australia although there is a Kiwi among them…violin player Peau Halapua is a wonderful violinist (and friend of the 13th Floor) and she her take on Scarlett Rivera’s violin lines were always impressive and she plays a mean mandolin as well.

So, while this mix of Dylan songs and McPherson’s play may not sit perfectly together all the time (the Hurricane/boxer character seemed a bit of a stretch), overall hearing these Dylan songs in this new and different setting was well worth a night out.

Marty Duda

Girl From The North Country play now until July 16th at The Civic Theatre. Click here for tickets and show times. 

Photos supplied:


Bob Dylan songs featured in Girl From The North Country:

Sign On The Window

Went To See The Gypsy

Tight Connection To MY Heart

Slow Train

License To Kill

I Want You

Like A Rolling Stone

Make You Feel My Love

What Can I Do For You?

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere


Sweetheart Like You

True Love Tends To Forget

Girl From The North Country


All Along The Watchtower

Idiot Wind

Duquesne Whistle

Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)

Is Your Love In Vain

Forever Young

Pressing On